Well, it kind of is. It seems to be consensus that Red Hook is about to see some sort of seismic change – from the somewhat sleepy backwater community that is hard to get to, under populated, with a legacy of decay, crime, and Lillie’s – into something as yet undetermined.
We have digested Fairway and IKEA and with all the publicity we have received since Sandy and Banksy the rest of the world is seeing us differently. Europe sees the value in the Statue of Liberty views and is ready to invest a fortune. Successful artists are plopping their fortune down to build their mansions inside of once dilapidated houses. Investment cartels are about to buy a packaged up industrial buildings a block from DeFontes.
And now, a bus parking lot is about to be turned into an elite private school by an education company looking to make lots of money – within eyeshot of our public housing population.
It is likely that BASIS will receive their approval from the Board of Standards and Appeals and go ahead with the school – rushing to be able to import one thousand entitled children whose parents can’t quite see paying $40,000 a year in one of Brooklyn’s established private schools, but feel that their children deserve better than a public school. It will be interesting to see how that all plays out.
But this is not about that.
It is about the large number of other non – or underdeveloped lots in our neighborhood. Alphabet City in the Lower East Side of Manhattan used to be full of them. As was Williamsburg. Fourth Avenue was once home to mostly garages and tire changers. Going back before its restaurant renaissance – Smith Street had probably the largest concentration of nail salons and beauty parlors in the world. Yes, there was a time when the Red Rose restaurant was an outlier. All these places today are very far removed from those days, not really that long ago.
It’s happening to us. Little by little.
Around twenty years ago, community leaders together with the community board prepared a vision for Red Hook’s future, called the 197A report, which was submitted and approved by the city. This is what the vision was back then:
- Promote opportunities for the development of Red Hook’s main asset –its people–including improved housing, social services and youth services and the expansion of the residential community.
- Support the preservation and expansion of industrial and maritime activity where it is currently solidly positioned in the northwest and southeast sections of Red Hook.
- Promote employment and business opportunities for local residents.
- Promote new residential development in the context of an economically,socially, and physically integrated community.
- Guide future development in a way that minimizes conflicts between industrial and residential communities.
- Strengthen, support, and expand the burgeoning arts community.
- Improve access to, egress from, and circulation within Red Hook bypublic transportation.
- Strengthen existing retail commercial areas.
- Revitalize and create public access to the waterfront, one of Red Hook’s major assets.
A careful reading of these show that all the studies and reports since then are pretty much a rehash of these nine goals. What is different is the real possibility of big money coming in and making these goals impossible. What is especially worrisome to us at the Star-Revue is point #3 – employment and business opportunities for local residents.
The population of the Red Hook Houses is still underachieving. Red Hook Initiative has shown that when opportunity is made available, large numbers of the poor will take advantage of it and raise themselves up and in many cases out of public housing – with college degrees and out of the unemployment and blue collar work of their parents, into careers with good futures. The Housing population includes a large potential working force that corporate America needs to discover.
Which is why we think the BASIS school is basically a lost opportunity. Property owners and developers make money by renting and building. It is true that the owner of the lot on Bay and Columbia is improving the property with a $50 million school building from which he will collect rent – much more rent than the buses and trucks that have previously parked there. It really doesn’t matter to him what gets built there. He is entitled to develop – within the zoning restrictions – any way he wants.
It is on us, the Red Hook Community, for not insisting from government the same kinds of economic incentives that other communities have received. Tax incentives have played a large part in attracting and keeping businesses in Manhattan and other areas. These businesses are all large employers – jobs from entry-level to professional.
Phoenix Beverage received many incentives to locate their operation at Piers 7 and 11 instead of moving to New Jersey. Our idea is for the city to make it possible for corporations in need of back office and/or research facilities to make Red Hook their home.
That’s just our idea. The time has long passed for the whole of Red Hook to come together and reach some sort of consensus as to the future of our unimproved parcels – and lobby our elected officials to move us in that direction.
Last year there was a meeting of something called The Red Hook Summit, which we were hoping would continue the work of the 197A plan. We have no idea what happened at this meeting, since we were barred from attending. We were told that information would be forthcoming to us as to what was achieved, but we have received nothing. Their website seems to be removed, and their Facebook page is filled with information about the Added Value farm.
Why not reconvene the Summit, this time openly and transparently, and try to build on 197A, so that the next time someone proposes building something so tremendously out of character with our community as the BASIS school, there will be alternatives already in place.
Sandy is not the only disaster that can befall us.